Since Windows Vista was first announced, for many users Internet Explorer 7 was actually the big reward: a new version of what used to be the world’s favorite browser, and – for the most part – they weren’t disappointed. Despite the progress issues in Windows Vista, Internet Explorer 7 has been coming along fine, and this new version brings its (Lion’s) share of features and improvements. In short, this browser has come a long way and promises to put up a real fight against the competition that only so recently overtook IE7, namely the latest versions of Firefox and Opera. Beta 3 makes subtle changes to the GUI and display that give it a nicer, more “exotic” appeal; with IE7’s focus on softer highlights and shadows, it’s begging for Web 2.0 – but can it handle it?
Internet Explorer has several new features immediately apparent: subtle changes to the GUI and coloring that include that include a new “Add to Favorites” button, a more clear-cut refresh logo, a different stop button, softer highlights and midtones on the toolbar, and a more ‘refined’ Quick Tabs interface, with faster page updates and a more streamlined display.
But most of the changes are boiling just beneath the surface, such as the long-awaited and much-requested moveable tabs already present in the latest versions of Opera and Firefox/Minefield, much lighter memory usage, faster loading of new tabs, and a faster overall user experience. It is interesting to note that ever since Beta 1 there hasn’t been much in terms of heavy changes, which backs our belief that Internet Explorer 7 is and has long been very close to its final form – waiting on Vista and its development the entire time.
Internet Explorer 7 uses an almost entirely new code-base, and as we have seen countless times since the first beta, by-and-large the security holes revealed and patched in Internet Explorer 6 did not affect IE7, which is doubtlessly a good sign – very similar to Microsoft’s switch from IIS 5 to IIS 6 and the sudden accompanying upgrade in security and the drastic drop in the number of bugs.
Like previously mentioned, Microsoft’s biggest mistake was sticking to the buggy IE6 throughout the past 5 years – which was written when security wasn’t the big deal it is now, and as such not much time or effort was spent on bringing IE6 up to scratch – but that’s all changed with Internet Explorer 7. The new isolation of ActiveX controls (ironically brought around by a lawsuit and not by a brainstorm on the behalf of the developers) shields Internet Explorer 7 (and IE6 if the appropriate hotfix is installed) from what is at once its biggest security threat and its leading feature: on-the-fly integration of plugins and modules.
This feature is what made Internet Explorer so easy to use with regards to streaming music & video, and online game play, and fortunately the new isolation model doesn’t break this feature, it only fortifies its security and requires the plugin to be activated by clicking on it, no more, no less. The anti-phishing & popup blocking features in IE7 rival those of Opera and Firefox – we believe that at this point it’s difficult to go much further, but all still need a bit of tweaking here and there to complete this feature. We can now comfortably say the age of the popup is over – one down, 499 more to go.
We only wish that Internet Explorer 7’s compatibility improvements were even half of its improvements in security – it’s that bad. Technically (and only technically speaking), Internet Explorer 7 is a fairly standards-compliant browser, especially compared to IE6. Actually, Internet Explorer 7 is very compliant browser, but the problem is in how it interprets the data, and raises a question of whether pages should be displayed according to standards or according to the wishes of the designers – sometimes the difference is drastic: should the browser intervene?
IE6 did, but IE7 doesn’t, and it makes a big difference. The fact of the matter is that although Internet Explorer 7 passes most CSS 2.1 tests fairly well, when it comes right down to it, pages still won’t display in Internet Explorer the same they do in every other standards-compliant engine, from Gecko to Opera, and everything in between. For an example, look at this blog’s homepage and a sample post as taken from Internet Explorer 7. This site uses fairly standard coding techniques and is valid XHTML according to the W3C (in its design, but not always content). Is can be seen, Internet Explorer 7 has severe issues dealing with DIV tags that overlap.
In the second example, the “Previous Post” and “Next Post” near the top of the post are under one another when they should be on the same line – because Internet Explorer 7 still insists on outputting one DIV tag then the next one after it in most cases – something that Internet Explorer 6 did even worse, but nevertheless, IE7 isn’t perfect. In the first example the sponsored links (as a CSS-formatted list) is displayed a link for each line – while it was meant to show as two links a line. The code isn’t perfect, but then again, is it ever? Where the designers attempt to improvise with hacks and tricks that a browser has never before seen in order to get something to look the way they would like, the other browsers attempt to render it as the designer intended, but IE7 doesn’t. It seems that Internet Explorer 7 is stuck on either extreme; on one end IE6 improvises and changes the code at whim to make it look ‘right’ (though it fails miserably now, it used to be quite good when IE 5 came out), and Internet Explorer 7 refuses to use “quirks” mode, leaving a gap in the middle.
As we published a while back in our comparison of Opera, Internet Explorer, and Firefox; we made clear our belief that at this point in time, the world of online browsing has finally reached a point where, by-and-large, it doesn’t matter what browser a user chooses or how they decide to browse the web, for the most part pages will display the way they should, the users will be secure, and malware needs to find a new venue. This latest build of Internet Explorer 7 only strengthened our opinion.
Both ways, Microsoft and especially the Internet Explorer team have done a marvelous job on Internet Explorer 7, literally making it thousands of times better than IE6. It make take quite some time for the world to forget or overcome the taint that IE6 put on the Internet Explorer name, but in time we feel that Windows Internet Explorer will be a worthy contender in the browser wars, and make up for the shame of the past.